August 20, 2014

Colorado Court of Appeals: Dismissal of Defamation Claim Pursuant to C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) Upheld

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Fry v. Lee on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

Defamation—Newspaper Article—CRCP 12(b)(5).

Plaintiff Michele Fry appealed the district court’s judgment dismissing her complaint alleging defamation and related claims against defendants Kurtis Lee and The Denver Post, LLC (Post), pursuant to CRCP 12(b)(5). The judgment was affirmed and the case was remanded with directions.

The Post published an article about Fry after she admitted to Lee, a reporter for the Post, that she accidently plagiarized an online publication authored by the National League of Cities (NLC). Fry then filed an action against Lee and the Post, contending that defendants had published materially false and defamatory statements.

Fry contended that, in ruling on the CRCP 12(b)(5) motion, the district court erred because it did not accept her pleaded facts as true and construe them in the light most favorable to her. Contrary to Fry’s contention, however, the district court was not required to accept the meanings alleged in her amended complaint as factual matters; instead, it properly referred to lay dictionaries to determine, as a matter of law, the ordinary and plain meanings ascribed to the challenged words.

Fry further contended that the district court erred when it granted defendants’ motion to dismiss, because reasonable people could have found that the challenged statements were capable of bearing defamatory meaning and were materially false. However, the words “charged,” “plagiarism,” and “recant” would not be interpreted by a reasonable person to have the defamatory meanings Fry alleged in her amended complaint. Furthermore, the substance of the articles was true.

Fry also argued that the court improperly summarily dismissed her ancillary claims, including respondeat superior, negligence, negligence per se, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and deceptive trade practices, based on the failure of her defamation claims. The district court did not err in dismissing Fry’s ancillary claims, however, given that they alleged damages resulting from defendants’ purportedly defamatory statements.

Defendants requested an award of attorney fees pursuant to CRS § 13-17-201. Because the district court properly dismissed Fry’s claim under CRCP 12(b)(5), defendants’ request for attorney fees was granted.

Summary and full case available here.

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